I recently discovered that my chances of getting divorced are over 400 percent. While a sane person might be a little apprehensive about tying the knot when confronted with this information, I've only continued to cultivate an insatiable desire to get married one day.
Here's how I arrived at that dooming number. According to research published by Cambridge University in 2005, having divorced parents gives me a 40 percent chance of getting divorced myself. My parents then remarried -- which statistically gives me a 91 chance of divorce -- and then my dad and my stepmom divorced each other, then remarried each other again.
By my calculations, that's 40 percent, plus 91 (times two, to account for both parents), plus another 40 and 91, plus 50 -- to account for the percent chance of failure that's become the tagline for modern American marriage -- and I arrive at this: a 443 percent change of divorce.
Okay, I admit that I never made it past high school pre-calculus, so my math could be a little, well, off. (As a writer, numbers make me feel all icky inside.) Still, stricken by the idea that I was a numerical bad seed, I turned to my boyfriend, Greg, who patiently explained to me that, according to the rules of "math," I couldn't just add percentages like that. (I assume he knows what he's talking about since he's a computer science engineer and he minored in mathematics in college.) He also assured me that statistics aren't indicators that something will happen to a specific person.
Even despite the unfavorable data, I should at least be a little apprehensive about, if not terrified of, marriage. My aforementioned divorced parents (a.k.a the people who've made me unmarriageable) didn't have the kind of split after which birthdays and holidays were jointly observed. Whether I switched off or celebrated twice, for most of my life I've chosen one place -- one parent -- over the other. My mom and dad each created their own, very separate lives, which I assume is pretty standard operating procedure when you're no longer married.
Yet, even after seeing the aftermath of my parents' failed marriage, getting hitched myself has always been -- and remains -- my foremost romantic goal. Every relationship I've been in -- even some non-relationships I've been in -- had me optimistic that this would be the guy I'd marry. In the sense that I'd use my zone-out moments, like while I blow-dried my hair, to ponder just how I'd phrase the "how we met and fell madly in love" story for the wedding toast. Yes, I'm that kind of girl.
But, while I'll habitually (and happily) tune in to "Say Yes To the Dress," the wedding part of getting married isn't actually what I look forward to. In fact, when I think about the logistics of the event a familiar discomfort creeps in -- the same one that washes over me any time both my sets of parents are forced to be in the same place at the same time because of their one common denominator, yours truly. There are looming questions that I just don't want to have to answer: Will both my dad and my stepdad walk me down the aisle? Will I have two father-daughter dances? Will everyone just wish I'd eloped instead -- including me?
What I do want is everything I've decided that marriage stands for: not just love and partnership, but security, even refuge. I'm hoping for someone to choose me instead of having to be the one who does the choosing. Marriage means no longer having to gravitate between my two parental poles, but establishing my own home base. And while I know that, rationally, having a happy and satisfying relationship should be enough in itself, my marriage-mindedness won't turn off.
Instead of cautioning me to fear marriage, my parents' divorce -- while a statistical setback -- has become an unlikely source of inspiration (or, in some moments, desperation). When I was researching a possible book a couple years ago, I interviewed a friend of mine whose parents had divorced shortly after mine and asked her if she'd ever considered never getting married. Her response, a resounding "no," echoed my own seemingly irrational feelings: "Especially coming from a divorced family, I want to have a family of my own to make memories with and enjoy," she said.
My friend has since married and she and her husband recently celebrated her first wedding anniversary. I hope her marriage filled the void that I imagine she and other divorced children feel (hopefully it's not just me -- awkward!). And, more than anything, I hope that my own marriage someday lives up to my expectations, absolving the failures of my parents and giving me the stability that I craved.
And, if not, I suppose that I should keep those statistics handy in case I need to explain how I ended up divorced.
Natasha Burton is the co-author of The Little Black Book of Big Red Flags: Relationship Warning Signs You Totally Spotted...But Chose to Ignore
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